Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Cathay Pacific halted all long-haul cargo flights for a week after Hong Kong tightened its air crew quarantine restrictions, prompting the carrier to warn of “dramatic disruptions” in the city’s supply of essential goods.

“Cathay Pacific Cargo will suspend all long-haul cargo and cargo passenger flights with immediate effect for a period of seven days, until January 6,” the airline said on Friday.

The decision will affect cargo planes bound by the Pacific, European, Southwest Pacific, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, the carrier added.

Cathay also said it would make “significant changes” and cancel more passenger flights in the first quarter of next year, as it would be a “skeleton” schedule in January.

The move came days after Hong Kong authorities extended quarantine restrictions for air crews due to the rise of the Omicron variant. The city already has some of the world’s strictest pandemic control under a “zero-covid” strategy,

Freight crew previously exempted from quarantine on arrival must now undergo seven days of compulsory isolation in a hotel, according to an internal memo sent to Cathay pilots seen by the Financial Times on Thursday.

Local health authorities had previously announced that the crew would have to sit in quarantine for three days. Hong Kong’s Transport and Housing Bureau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cathay pilots have already suffered from low morale due to the city’s strict restrictions, with some describing the city’s Covid controls as “permanent quarantine”.

Andy Wong, Cathay’s general manager of corporate affairs, said the operational and travel restrictions continue to “limit our ability to operate flights as planned” and the airline is consolidating passenger and cargo flight schedules for early 2022.

Cathay’s figures for November, before the rise of Omicron, showed that total cargo transported had fallen by 24 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. The airline’s passenger capacity has dropped by more than 90 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

“We are cautious that any further tightening of air crew quarantine arrangements will result in a reduction in flight frequencies to protect the well-being of our crew members and the overall safety of our operations,” Wong said.

He added: “Such actions, in turn, will cause dramatic disruptions to supply chains in the short term, jeopardizing the adequate supply of essential goods in an already scarce supply chain environment, affecting and undermining the livelihoods of thousands of people in Hong Kong. Hong Kong International Airport as a leading cargo center. ”

Aviation analysts have expressed concern that Hong Kong’s strict Covid rules could undermine the city’s status as a global flight and logistics hub.

Last month, US-based cargo group FedEx has moved to close its crew base in Hong Kong and relocate staff overseas. Airlines, including Finnair, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, have been banned from flying multiple routes to the city after cases were recorded on individuals arriving on the airline.

Hong Kong has recorded 81 Omicron cases since Thursday, and health experts have warned that the area could be on the verge of an outbreak after at least two community-wide cases were detected. The cases are believed to be linked to a Cathay air crew member.

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